Much of the nation’s electrical infrastructure is decades old and decaying. More distributed energy sources like rooftop solar power are coming online in some parts of the country, while homes are becoming more efficient and reducing demand growth. Meanwhile, climate disruptions are exposing weaknesses in the grid. This is driving utilities to come up with new business models to build a smarter, more resilient grid. But it’s also forcing regulators to revise how they manage electrical infrastructure, cajoling a notoriously slow-moving industry to respond to a rapidly shifting energy landscape.
Doomsday scenarios for the electric power sector in the wake of the Obama administration’s proposal to cut power plant carbon dioxide emissions ignore the industry’s ability to innovate and adapt to change, a senior U.S. EPA official said yesterday. “The discourse in the coming months will be explosive,” Joseph Goffman, an associate assistant administrator and senior counsel in the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation, told state regulators and energy executives at a meeting here. “There will be all sorts of allegations about high costs.”
The nine Northeastern states that participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative hailed U.S. EPA’s proposed carbon rule for existing power plants that would let them comply through their interstate cap-and-trade emissions system. But RGGI members are now studying the rule’s fine print to see how EPA emission targets line up with reductions they’re already making and whether responsibilities are fairly divided across all 50 states. I’m really excited that they’ve not only allowed RGGI to participate, but they’ve recognized that a regional approach would be the most cost-effective possible,” RGGI Commissioner Kelly Speakes-Backman said in an interview.
Federal energy regulators today signed off on a politically popular plan that allows California’s grid manager to launch a voluntary “real time” energy market and share its electricity resources with five Western states. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously voted to conditionally accept the California Independent System Operator’s (ISO) proposal — as made through tariff revisions — to design an energy imbalance market, or EIM, which pools energy resources in parts of Oregon, Washington, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho. State grid operators have proposed to launch the market on Oct. 1.
As regulators ponder fundamental changes in electricity market rules to cope with the grid’s clouded future, the industry is dividing along its old battle lines to debate the changes. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission continues to wrestle with the policies governing “capacity” markets operated by regional transmission organizations (RTOs) — markets that are counted on to deliver future generation resources and conservation measures. Many grid experts question whether the prices merchant generators are receiving in capacity markets under current rules are high enough to assure adequate supplies several years from now, as retirements of coal-fired power plants grow.
The energy required to build a new commercial-scale wind turbine amounts to only a small amount of what the turbine will produce over a projected 20-year life span, according to a new life-cycle analysis of wind turbines performed by Oregon State University researchers.
The importance of shale is expected to grow as emerging markets bounce back from the global financial crisis and as accelerating economic growth pushes up demand for energy, including fossil fuels. Growing middle classes in countries like Brazil and India are starting to buy more luxury goods like cars and high-end smartphones. And despite the rise of renewables like wind- and solar-power, oil, gas and coal are still expected to represent the lion’s share of worldwide energy consumption for the foreseeable future. Global demand for gas, for example, is expected to jump more than 50 percent over the next 20 years, according to the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental policy-coordinating and advisory body based in Paris.
The outlook for new wind projects is uncertain, though. Nebraska Public Power District is within 22 megawatts of its renewable output goal, and Prairie Breeze took OPPD’s total renewable output to about 13.5 percent. When the Grande Prairie Wind Farm comes on line in 2016, OPPD’s renewable output will be at 30 percent. It had a goal of achieving 10 percent by 2020. “I don’t believe either we or anyone else will move forward (with new projects) immediately without those (federal) credits,” said Dean Mueller, division manager of sustainable energy and environmental stewardship at OPPD.
The new Environmental Protection Agency rules, under which North Dakota needs to cut emissions by only around 11 percent, should lead to increased demand for coal alternatives in nearby states, said Tom Vinson, senior director of federal regulatory affairs at the American Wind Energy Association, a national trade association. “Assuming that the transmission is sufficient, then North Dakota has potentially a major opportunity for exporting wind to help other states meet their compliance obligations — as well as using wind to meet your own obligation under the EPA rule,” he said. In 2013, 79 percent of North Dakota’s electricity generation came from coal, 16 percent came from wind and 5 percent came from hydroelectric sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Deep divisions over the proposed Hyperion oil refinery that split Union County several years ago may be on the point of being mirrored in southern Lincoln County, this time as it relates to a massive proposed wind farm. The planned Dakota Power Community Wind project could sprawl over more than 23,000 acres and generate as much as 1,000 megawatts from as many as 500 turbines. It has potential to give a shot in the arm to the state’s wind industry and create economic opportunities for investors and some landowners.